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cover crop or not

 
Posts: 4
Location: Michigan
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Hello all! First time poster here.
I have finally settled in a place where i can get back to nature after almost 20yrs of missing it. I have a small 1/3 acre that is a sandy hill overlooking state land and lake in central Michigan . I have 3 sharp slopes and future plans to terrace them for usable growing spaces, but in the mean time i have been considering using them for cover crops.
The place sat empty for over 4 years until my purchase late last summer so the wild vegetation is thick and plentiful. I have been cutting it down this spring for use in my compost piles.
Would an actual cover crop be more beneficial than the wild grasses? Amounts wont be an issue, i am already drying and stacking cuttings for future use, however i began to debate a difference in nutrients.
I have so much to do already, im leaning towards leaving the wild as is unless i am missing something on the nutrient side i am not aware of.
Thanks in advance
Jeff
 
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Location: Southern Illinois
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Hi Jeff,

Good for questioning the value of replacing native species.  I guess the answer to your question is another question--What exactly are you trying to accomplish with your cover crop?  Very likely, you will want a weed-free area, so planting a crop that will smother competition might be appropriate.  Also, maybe consider a nitrogen fixer and (do you have sandy soil?) a carbon fixing plant.  From there, we can look at all sorts of possibilities.

Good topic,

Eric
 
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Location: Piedmont 7a
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Hi Jeff,

Another option, given you are pressed with other things, is to just chop and drop in place whatever is growing until you are ready to terrace/plant. That will build soil with a minimum of cost/work - just mow it or weed whack it a couple of times per year.
 
Jeff Cornish
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Location: Michigan
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Hi Eric,
I suppose that did not come out as clear as I'd hoped.
These 3 slopes are each roughly 60 degrees, so i am using them only for composting needs until i get them terraced. They are full of native weeds and grasses that i am chopping to have greens in my compost. They are just too steep to garden comfortably.  With a very sandy soil, i found myself debating
If a cover crop might be more beneficial to the soil the compost will become, therefore worth the effort  and expense to plant the hills in cover crops instead of the native.
My gut says dont bother, however there is one voice in the back of my mind that seems to think otherwise.
Im no stranger to a garden or compost pile, but that is about the extent of my knowledge. I have not ever used cover crops before.
Your input is greatly appreciated.
 
Jeff Cornish
Posts: 4
Location: Michigan
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Hi Arti.
That was actually plan A. And then it rained. The hills are steep enough it all washed to the bottom and made a mess of other things

Plan B-  chop and collect for compost.  This is working well but the angle does make it a bit of a chore. The pay off will be worth it tho.
 
Posts: 153
Location: Vermont, USA
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As the beleaguered owner of a steep hill, I vote for whatever will hold the soil in place. I’m unwilling to try to dig swales on my hill - too steep for heavy equipment anyway. I have used debris windrows to trap the leaves and whatnot in an attempt to begin to hold what’s left of the soil on the hill.

Currently it grows alpine strawberries, scrub bushes and tree seedlings.  (Lovely grass and wildflowers grow below, where all the soil now resides!)  I’ve added compost and hay to my piles of old Christmas trees and rotten wood, and have successfully grown some comfrey and a couple of perennials behind one of the windrows.





ETA:  corrected confusing typo
 
Jeff Cornish
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Location: Michigan
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Hi Anne

Errosion is a big concern for sure!  That is the reason i will terrace them soon.  Im planning one hill a year to terrace starting this year. So far no one has made a viable case for replacing the natural vegetation with a cover crop so ill follow my gut and chop the native before it goes to seed for compost and focus m9n8es and energies on thefirst terrace. Thank you for your input!!!
 
Anne Pratt
Posts: 153
Location: Vermont, USA
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I recall now I did overseed my hill and the sodden clay area with clover our first year here.  Where it grew, it's doing well.  It didn't solve the problem of barren scrub near the top of the hill; it mostly grew elsewhere.

I think your plan is solid.
 
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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A nitrogen fixing cover crop will pump a lot of free N into your soil.  That alone is worth it, not to mention all the other benefits that come with getting a lot of biomass onto the soil surface.
 
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